How My Search for Strawberry Jam Led to Pigs in Las Vegas


One of the most common questions I get about Now I Know is “where do I find these stories?” Usually, the answer is straightforward — someone sent me a fun fact, or I came about it in my normal course of being overly curious, or something like that. But every so often, there’s a story behind the discovery — and Tuesday’s Now I Know has one of those stories. 

Tuesday’s story, linked in the Week in Review below, is about a pig farm in the middle of the desert outside Las Vegas, which is a weird place for a farm to be because farms shouldn’t be anywhere near a desert. My journey to learn about this fact started with.. well, I don’t exactly remember. A while ago, I considered investing some of my time into a Now I Know Twitter account only to give up on it shortly thereafter, But in a brief moment in 2015, I gave it a try. One of the things I posted was a picture of Heinz’s grape jelly and Smuckers’ strawberry jam, saying “The difference between jelly and jam? Jelly is made from fruit juice. Jam is made from fruit.”

I stumbled across that tweet recently and while I think that’s mostly right, but I didn’t cite any source there. So I went to verify it. (Yes, I recheck my own work even years later.) I found a story from Mental Floss in 2016 titled “10 Things You Might Not Know About Smucker’s” and I found something new about the jam/jelly rules: Smuckers, which makes jams, couldn’t call their jams “jams” at one point: 

In the 1970s, Smucker’s released a line of lightly sweetened fruit spreads for sugar-sensitive breakfast eaters (and likely to combat sugar shortages of the ’70s). Because there was so little sugar in the finished product, the Food and Drug Administration banned the company from marketing it as jam (jams contain about 60 percent sugar).

That has nothing to do with the pigs or Las Vegas, of course, but as you’ll note, that Mental Floss article has a list of ten things about Smucker’s and the fact above is only one of those ten. Another one — the last one, is about Uncrustables, a self-sealed sandwich (often peanut butter and jelly) like the one seen above. Here’s the fact that Mental Floss shares about these little sandwiches:

Smucker’s Uncrustable sandwiches are pretty much what they sound like: frozen, crust-less peanut butter and jelly pockets. Smucker’s tried to patent the concept of a crust-less, enclosed sandwich to no avail, even sending a cease and desist letter to a Michigan business that created a similar turnover. Unfortunately for Smucker’s, courts ruled that patenting a turnover-style sandwich wasn’t going to happen, regardless of how it was made or whether it was crimped around the edges (judges said the process was too similar to ravioli). But, that hasn’t stopped the company from making the sandwiches, which like many Smucker’s toppings and spreads, remain a staple in American cupboards.

Interesting, right? So I got exploring. I did a bunch of searches on Uncrustables and came up with an official FAQ on the Smucker’s Uncrustables website — which didn’t talk about the patent issues. (That shouldn’t be surprising; I doubt “are Uncrustables patented?” is a frequently asked question, and even if it were, I doubt Smucker’s wants to talk about it.) However, that page triggered a browser plugin I have on Chrome, alerting me that there are four reddit conversations about that page — including one that notes that “Smucker’s Uncrustables sends all of their discarded crusts to be made into animal feed.” Interesting enough to click, but I didn’t have a lot of hope that there was a larger story here. In fact, it never occurred to me that Uncrustables had any crusts in the first place. 

So I clicked onto that reddit thread and there, a saw a comment: “A big pig farmer in Vegas used to charge the casinos to take their buffet scraps, then a market emerged for it and I believe the casinos make money selling their scrap.” That felt like a good Now I Know story so I went to verify it. The core part — that the casinos sell the scraps — turned out to be wrong. But the fact that there was a pig farm in the desert was itself a story, and I went from there. The end result was Tuesday’s newsletter.

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: Fourth of July — no newsletter sent!

Tuesday: The Swine of Sin City: Meet the pigs who eat what gluttonous tourists won’t.

Wednesday: The Runway: A nice story of a small town coming together to help a stranded traveler. 

Thursday: The Recursive Candy Bar: Kit Kats are made of Kit Kats. Really!

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “The Fugitive Next Door” (Atavist, 40 minutes, May 2022). Here’s a pull quote:

[Tim] Brown’s neighbors would later recount their confusion at the fleet of official vehicles facing every which way in the street. No one knew what Brown had done. But whatever they imagined, the truth was almost certainly stranger.

For the previous 35 years, Tim Brown had been living a carefully constructed lie. He wasn’t just an aging retiree with a passion for aviation. In fact, he wasn’t Tim Brown at all. His real name was Howard Farley Jr., and law enforcement alleged that he’d been the leader of one of the largest drug-trafficking rings in Nebraska history.

2) “Among the Landlords” (Vice, 23 minutes, June 2022). A reporter goes to a convention of landlords. The story he tells meanders a lot but every turn is interesting. At one point, the author notes that “the convention was mostly a series of pitches. Almost every speaker was there to explain a trick or technique that will help a landlord make [more] money,” with everyone having an angle. Many paragraphs later, it turns out that the organizer of the convention has an additional incremental revenue stream, too — and the writer is putting it at risk. The reporter is recording the convention and that’s a problem for the organizer; he’s selling recordings of the speakers for $249 on-site, $299 thereafter, and doesn’t want the reporter’s videos getting to that market for free.

3) An interactive article explaining how GPS works. It’s a 40-minute read, but there are lots of places where the author asks you to stop to explore the concept using little interactive demonstrations. As a result, you could spend hours lost in this article, which is kind of funny because part of the point of GPS is to prevent you from getting lost.

Have a great weekend!